I’m sorry but “political” reasons?

20.01.12: Martin Rowson on union opposition to the health and social care bill

Andrew Lansley recently showed a prime example of how not win your case by describing the ever growing opposition to his NHS reforms as being motivated by “political” reasons.

I’m sorry but “political” reasons? The British Medical Association (BMA), Royal College of GPs, Royal College of Nurses, the Conservative dominated Commons Health Select Committee and Norman frigging Tebbit all oppose the reforms, which will open up the NHS to EU competition law, for “political” reasons? These are not organisations (with the exception of the latter obviously) that sit from the outside and attempt to vaguely analyse the inner workings of the NHS. No, these are organisations that deal with the inner workings of the NHS every single day. They know how it works. They know what will be detrimental. And they are the ones that will know that these reforms will fundamentally destroy the NHS.

Cameron said it himself, no top down reorganisations of the NHS. Now drop this bill!



Sex education malarkey

I think most of us can agree that sex education has an important role to play in public schools. But to what level of importance would you say it is?

To Conservative MP, Andrea Leadsom, it seems not very. Let’s put this into context. In England and Wales sex education is not a compulsory subject for public schools (I know for one that I personally received nothing at my High School) and that parents are allowed to “opt out” their child if the school does teach it. And you wonder why we have the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Europe.

Anyway, back to Andrea Leadsom. It seems she believes that parents should have to “opt in” their children to sex education classes and that current sex education books are “inappropriate”. This is while a report published by Ofsted last year pointed out that a quarter of schools in England are not providing good enough lessons about sex, relationships and health.  At the same time new research in the last couple of weeks provided information that “81% of 14 to 18-year-olds said their information came from the internet, the television and their friends.” and “one in four pupils do not have any sexual and relationship education in school.“.

Now some may say that abstinence only sex education is the only sound and “moral” way forward. But when we analyse this claim, it’s quite apparent that this argument is not grounded in research and facts. The Council of Scientific Affairs states that ”Current research findings do not support the position that the abstinence-only approach to sexuality education is effective in delaying the onset of intercourse.”.

I have already done a similar post on sex education before. But the point still stands, we need more not less sex education. If we truly want to tackle STDs, teenage pregnancies and yes, even abortions (again look to my previous post and subsequent comments regarding abortions) we need sound and effective sex education with no “opt-outs” for pushy and insecure parents.

So please Leadson, could the education system have some more.


Sex is not the enemy

David Cameron is set to announce a new set of proposals for child-proofing the internet. A new opt-in scheme to be unveiled today would have internet providers blocking access to pornographic material to all but those users who request it. Clearly children, some teenagers and even adults can be shocked and upset by explicit imagery.

I don’t think we should run (seek to understand exotic acts and complex power games) before we can walk (understand a basic ideal of sex between adults who respect each other). But wouldn’t it be nice if the government were to replace one (misleading, fantasy-based) source of sex information with another (safe, inclusive) source?

The classically repressed British are living proof that ignoring sex does not make STIs or unwanted pregnancy go away. Only proper education, support networks and open adult discussion can do that.

I think we have some things to learn from our friends down under: http://www.sexparty.org.au/index.php/policies


Another despairing moment for the American right

Michele Bachmann speaks during the GOP debate

You’d think after eight years of George W. Bush as President you would have thought the Republican party would ensure its front-runners for the 2012 Presidential bid would at the very least appear to seem to know what they are talking about. But sadly, they got Michelle Bachmann instead. Now I thought the American right (specifically the Tea Party wing) had lost most of its credibility (primarily) in regards to modern science when one of its darlings, Sarah Palin, said this:

Now, yes you may well be reeling laughter/pity for the Palin. But this has turned out to be nothing when compared to the Tea Party’s newer rising darling, Michelle Bachmann. This is the woman who wishes to close down the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), regards homosexuality as a “disorder” and a “sexual difunction” and wishes to repeal all health care system legislation.

What she done now? You may ask. Well she, like Palin has delved into the realm of scientific ignorance. Bachmann claimed that the HPV vaccine, which is a well-proven preventer of cervical cancer, causes “mental retardation” in children. Yup, you heard right, “mental retardation” in children.

Now I’m not even going to go in to the long long list of scientists and scientific institutions that lined up to show how ridiculous Bachmann’s comments are. But I will provide her with two specific facts:

  • HPV, Human Papilloma Virus, or more commonly: genital warts is the most common STD worldwide and is the 2nd largest cause of female cancer (CDC).
  • Investigations by the AMA, CDC, WHO, and other major health organizations have cleared the vaccine as safe. Of 23 million administered dosages, 772 (that’s .003%) reported serious effects.
Please Tea Party, grow up!


9/11 Ten Years On, Coalition Politics and Blood Donation

9/11 – A Warning from Recent History

For someone of the age of the current crop of Labour Students, it is particularly difficult to believe that it is ten years tomorrow since the lives of millions were changed forever on September 11th, 2001. Most of us were still in primary school at the time, and it is perhaps apt that our generation – one that was constantly told we were growing up too fast – had our innocence of the world around us robbed so suddenly on that bright Tuesday morning. Hearing and seeing the images of the planes hitting the World Trade Center still transfixes all of us, and as much as we might want to look away having seen enough, we can’t quite bring ourselves to stop watching.

However it is our generation – the 9/11 generation – who will be the politicians and headline-makers of the coming years, and if anything good can come of the last decade, it is surely the lesson  that those in power have a responsibility not to overreact when faced with such onslaughts. Our party’s most successful leader (in electoral terms) no doubt had good intentions, but made the grave error of marching the troops gung-ho into an unplanned and illegal war, probably creating a whole new generation of terrorists in the process, while at home him and those around him were complicit in eroding many of the freedoms we were meant to be protecting, including detention without charge and freedom from torture. If the horror of terrorism reaches us again, we must pause and assess the causes before acting. The same rule should apply for other crises, like the riots this summer.

Backbench Tories Have Nothing To Worry About

Today is the final day of the Plaid Cymru autumn conference in Llandudno, north Wales. The outgoing leader, Ieuan Wyn Jones, made his final conference speech yesterday after an electoral drubbing for the nationalist party in the Welsh Assembly elections in May. Unlike in Scotland, where the SNP have been successful, he argued that coalition government in Cardiff Bay (of which Plaid was the junior party) meant Plaid’s achievements in government were smothered by Labour, and that the party was punished by voters for not claiming credit for them.

Aside from the fact that Plaid achieved very little in government in a time of economic turmoil other than a referendum with poor turnout which managed to bore even political anoraks, their experience in coalition should serve as a lesson to Westminster politics. This week Tory backbenchers, angry over law and order, Europe and abortion, moaned that the Lib Dem ‘tail’ was wagging the Tory ‘dog’ and that Nick Clegg was being given too many concessions by the Prime Minister. However come the election in 2015, the Tories will have nothing to worry about, as the voters are likely to give them sole credit for any successes – particularly if the economy picks up (not a given considering Osborne’s slash-and-burn approach) – and they will certainly not be looking to make some sort of permanent alliance with the Lib Dems, contrary to what some commentators are predicting. The coalition dog will probably have his tail docked when the voters are next given a choice.

About Bloody Time

This week the ban on gay and bisexual men giving blood for life in Britain was finally overturned (although you’d be forgiven for not noticing the leap forward because the BBC thought Strictly Come Dancing was more important on the news bulletins that night). This is a triumph that equality campaigners have been working tirelessly for for years, and at last gay men will be able to save lives and help tackle the urgent need for more donors. No more will the official policy imply that gay men cannot be trusted to practice safe sex and ‘probably have HIV’.

Although the ban was only replaced with a one-year time lag since a donor’s last encounter, it is still progress, and puts us more in line with the situation in similar countries.

Abortion and sex education facts

In the light of Nadine Dorries’ plans to require “independent” organisation to consult with pregnant women, I’d like to point out the true facts of abortion and sex education in the UK and across the world. These are facts that the religious “independent” organisations seem to ignore and the same for many in the so-called Conservative Christian Fellowship.

Here are some facts about abortion and sex education.

  1. Each year, 20 million abortions take place in unsafe conditions and as a consequence, an estimated 80,000 women die
  2. Late abortions are extremely rare but necessary – less than 1 per cent are carried out after 22 weeks
  3. Abortion is very safe in Britain and is one of the most commonly performed gynaecological procedures. Complications are extremely rare; carrying a pregnancy to term is more risky.
  4. Contrary to assertions by the anti-choice lobby, medical research consistently shows that women who have had an abortion have no greater risk of breast cancer than those who have not.
  5. One in five of all pregnancies ends in a natural abortion.
  6. Abortion laws in the UK are more restrictive than in almost every other European country, where abortion on request is legal in the first three months of pregnancy
  7. Sex education is not a compulsory module in secondary schools in England and Wales
  8. Studies have shown that comparisons between countries where abortion is legal and illegal that they have almost no difference in the actual level of abortions that take place, the only difference being, it’s far more dangerous in the illegal countries
Now, for those who oppose abortion more often than not (particularly amongst religious circles) believe that only abstinence only sex education works.
Well let’s exam these claims:
  1. “Abstinence-only-until-marriage works.”-The Council of Scientific Affairs states that “Current research findings do not support the position that the abstinence-only approach to sexuality education is effective in delaying the onset of intercourse.”
  2. “Sex education encourages students to become sexually active at younger ages.”-The World Health Organization reviewed evaluations of 47 programs in the United States and other countries. In 15 studies, sex and HIV/AIDS education neither increased nor decreased sexual activity and rates of pregnancy and STI. However, in 17 studies, HIV and/or sex education delayed the onset of sexual activity, reduced the number of sexual partners, and/or reduced unplanned pregnancy and STI rates.
  3. “Teaching students about contraception encourages sexual activity and increases the chance of teenage pregnancy.”-Expert panels that have studied this issue have concluded that comprehensive sex and HIV/AIDS education programs and condom availability programs do not increase sexual activity and can be effective in reducing high-risk sexual behaviors among adolescents.
  4. “Contraceptives fail so frequently that we should only teach teens to abstain.”-Modern contraceptives are highly effective. The percent of women experiencing pregnancy within one year ranges from 0.03 percent using Depo-Provera to nine percent using the cervical cap ( with perfect use). Even imperfect use protects women far better than does using no protection. Rates of pregnancy with imperfect use range from 0.03 percent using Depo-Provera to 21 percent using the female condom compared to 85 percent of women using no protection.
  5. “Contraceptives do not protect against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.”-Other than total sexual abstinence, only condoms currently provide significant protection against HIV and other STIs. That is why good programs educate students about the importance of condoms.
  6. “Condoms have a high failure rate.”-The National Institutes of Health (NIH) confirms that condoms are very effective in affording protection against HIV and unwanted pregnancy. The NIH also reports that laboratory studies show that condoms can afford good protection against discharge diseases, such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis.
Think about that Department of Health.